For those of us soccer fanatics who live here in the Pacific Northwest, this is our dream playoff matchup. It’s big anytime that the Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers play each other, but with the postseason upon us and knowing that your team could be the one who ends the other’s championship hopes — it just drives up the intensity.
Seattle is coming off of a much needed 2-0 win in the knockout round over Colorado on Wednesday; a win which snapped a season-worst seven-game winless streak. Even after that win, though, are just more questions.
The biggest question for Seattle right now will be the availability of right back DeAndre Yedlin, who appeared to pick up an ankle injury right before halftime on Wednesday. If Yedlin is not available for the match, it’s very possible to see Sigi Schmid slide Brad Evans back in that role, a role he has been playing for Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States Men’s National Team. A move like this would also open up a wing for captain Mauro Rosales to reenter the squad, or possibly shifting Lamar Neagle back if Obafemi Martins were fit enough to return.
Seattle will also be without starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning for the first leg after he picked up a silly red card late in the match on Wednesday. Gspurning mistimed a ball that had gotten behind his defenders; the ball took a high bounce off the turf and Gspurning calmly caught it. The bad part about this was that he was outside of the 18-yard box which is a deliberate hand ball and a red card. Thankfully for Seattle, they turn to the capable veteran hands of Marcus Hahnemann, who formerly played in England and has made a few appearances for Seattle this season.
This is the first time that Portland has qualified for the playoffs since entering Major League Soccer back in 2011, and they are surely coming into the playoffs on quite a streak. Portland is unbeaten in their last eight matches, having only conceded three goals. A big key to that is their defensive consistency. In the last six matches, Portland has used the same back four of Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, Pa Madou Kah and Michael Harrington; in these matches, they have allowed only two goals with five shutouts.
Portland should be brimming with confidence heading into this playoff series given their recent success and Seattle’s recent struggles, but they will surely need to be careful to keep composed during this crucial first leg. Caleb Porter, who just signed a five-year contract extension yesterday, is fully aware of Portland’s struggles at CenturyLink Field – where they have yet to win and have only scored twice in four matches.
Portland may be able to expose some weakness along the left flank if Yedlin plays at less than 100 percent. His ankle issue will surely effect his speed which could be a point of emphasis for Porter. If Yedlin is in the starting lineup on Saturday, look for Rodney Wallace to test him early with some runs down the left.
It will be very important for Portland to keep the score close going into their home leg next Thursday night, and with the way the defense is playing currently, it is looking good for the playoff debuters.
Seattle Sounders FC will host the Portland Timbers in Leg 1 of the Western Conference Semi-finals at CenturyLink Field on Saturday, Nov 2. Kickoff is at 10:00 p.m. EST and the match can be seen on the NBC Sports Network.
First Leg Prediction: Seattle Sounders FC 3, Portland Timbers 1
It is going to be a spectacular night in Seattle on Saturday; the weather is anticipated to be very Cascadian. Rain in the forecast is expected to start sometime Friday afternoon and not let up until well past the final whistle. Combine that with a brisk wind and two very passionate fan bases with pure hatred of each other, and you’ve got the recipe for a great match and playoff series.
This match will reflect the history of this series in Seattle with a Sounders victory. Schmid has finally adjusted his tactics utilizing a diamond midfield with Clint Dempsey at the top. Portland’s center backs will already have their hands full with Eddie Johnson and Neagle/Martins, so it will be imperative for Diego Chara to keep Dempsey in check as he did in Portland. His success will be determined by whether referee Baldomero Toledo calls the match tight or lets the players play.